Gone are the days where the phrase “work from home” conjured images of a coveted and luxurious lifestyle, full of lazy mornings and midday naps – a situation reserved for freelance creatives or antisocial computer programmers. As we, survivors of 2020, now know too well, that once-elusive WFH existence isn’t particularly glamorous, but nor is it unattainable. Most of us have worked from our homes for most of the past year, and while it may have felt strange at first, it now feels [for me, at least] like the new normal.

When Covid first hit and I was scrambling to put together a temporary Work From Home policy [want to know something funny? It was a four week policy. Four weeks. Oh early 2020 us, so naive] my biggest concern at the time was productivity. How would we all resist the allure of our sofas? How could we possibly commit to spending eight hours at our kitchen tables, on laptops, when there were far better options available to us? It will come as no surprise now to know that I was wrong. Productivity during our first three months of lockdown? The highest it had ever been, and it was growing month on month. We were arriving at our “desks” refreshed from sleep rather than frazzled by a commute, and in a world that was getting scarier by the day, work was a safe and familiar place.

Don’t get me wrong, we’ve had huge ups and downs while separated by Covid. There are significant drawbacks to being separated from each other, and we have felt the full effects of that. What I can’t deny though, is that 2020 has shown us that our traditional ideas of how we work are dead in the water. So, how do we navigate the new office environment in 2021?

Think about what you really need

Let me be super clear by saying that we will never be an entirely WFH workforce. We are collaborative [in fact it’s one of our values and is a foundation of TDP]. And while we’ve certainly found ways to collaborate via Slack and Zoom, we are craving the energy of being in the same room together, throwing ideas around and inspiring each other. For us, the future is most definitely not an entirely WFH situation, but nor is it completely office based. One of the gifts that 2020 gave us was the ability to reframe our ideas of normal, and to have to do things differently. As a result, we have made interstate hires that we’d never have made, and will be able to give our whole team much more flexibility when it comes to when and where they work from.

Know that good management isn’t about proximity

This is something I’ve thought about a lot in the lead-up to phasing back into the office. If you’d asked me a year ago, I would have told you that there was no way I could manage a whole team remotely, and honestly it’s had its challenges for our whole management team. Having said that, we’ve learned so much about what it takes to manage well by being forced to adapt to doing it remotely. Below are my hard-won learnings about managing a team remotely:

 

Clarity is key

There’s no room for ambiguity when you’re not able to shout across the room to each other to clarify a few details. Make everybody’s life easier by saying what you mean; be it instructions or feedback. Avoid miscommunication by not beating around the bush, and everyone will feel a lot less anxious about the physical divide.

Trust your team

Or rather, build a team that you can trust. Be the kind of manager who leaves no question around their expectations [see above!] and who motivates their team to do the right thing by being fair and leading by example. If you don’t trust your team to complete their work well without you breathing down their necks, then you have bigger problems than proximity. Poor performing teams aren’t usually the product of ill-intentioned employees, but rather directionless or unmotivated people who have no faith in their leaders.

My biggest piece of advice to those managing remotely would be to keep all lines of communication wide open, keep records of feedback you’ve given and received, be transparent about goals and KPIs for your team and make sure that you’re still having regular check-ins via video call. If you’re providing enough support for your team, then you should be able to be confident that they will thrive with or without your physical presence.

So, what next?

We can probably all agree that we have no bloody idea what 2021 is going to bring. And after 2020, it could be anything, really. What I do know is that we’re heading into this next working year with optimism and open minds. We’re excited that the working landscape has changed: change brings opportunities to do things differently and to improve. We’re definitely heading back into the office, but not how we used to. We’re offering more flexibility and more Work from Home days for our whole team. I would love to know, what does your working life look like in 2021? Let us know in the comments!